While many parks in the northwestern part of the U.S. begin closing down facilities and roads as early as September, there are still numerous national parks you can visit in October, and beyond. Several of the most prominent parks stay open and come alive in the autumn.
In October, the greatest national parks to visit are in the Southwest or the East. Prerequisites are pristine forests and, preferably, hilly or mountainous terrain. Canyons and deep glacial valleys also work, as we’ll discover later. This is because parks with a variety of vegetation and large elevation differences will have the longest period of fall foliage.
The earliest indications of autumn are usually seen at higher altitudes. The color line then slowly creeps down the slopes until even the low-lying valleys can’t escape the yellow, orange and brown wave any longer.
This autumn, a camping vacation in the National Parks ensures spectacular fall colors and fantastic hiking. Cozy campfires keep everyone warm in the evening, while crisp mornings get rid of sleepiness even better than the strongest coffee.
Although there is no bad time to visit any of our parks, we believe the following are the five greatest national parks to visit in October:
1. Zion National Park — Utah
It may come as a surprise to find a desert/canyon park included on our list, but Zion National Park is one of the best national parks for autumn foliage. When the enormous summer crowds are gone—it’s the fifth most-visited of the national parks—things quickly calm down in September, exactly when the leaves begin to turn at the higher elevations.
While Zion is one of the greatest national parks to visit in October, leaf-peeping may be done far into November, with peak autumn foliage occurring in mid-October. Zion is photogenic and colorful in the popular season, but fall brings with it an explosion of yellows, oranges, red and browns in Zion Canyon that’s not seen by many. This site is spectacular, especially when the sunshine paints the canyon walls crimson at dawn and dusk.
Best Fall Hikes in Zion National Park (Zion Canyon)
- Pa’rus Trail (3.5 miles, easy)
- Kayenta Trail (2 miles, moderate)
- Watchman Trail (3.3 miles, moderate)
- Observation Point accessed via the East Rim Trail (8 miles, strenuous)
Where to Camp in Zion National Park in the Fall
The two campgrounds in Zion Canyon, both located near the southern entrance in Springdale, are open until late November or early December, so you’ll have the chance to enjoy the park’s fall scenery throughout the whole of the season. Both campsites provide bathrooms, garbage cans, and potable water, but no showers, electrical connections, or outlets. Every campsite has a fire pit, grill, and picnic table.
Because of the popularity of this park, the campsites are almost always full. Some sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, but reservations are recommended if you’d like a guaranteed campsite.
“When I visit Zion, I like staying in South Campground. Recently, they switched over from first come, first served to a 2-week reservation system ($20/night) so be aware of this when you want to go. Check for cancellations, which is how I got in at the last minute the previous time. You can’t top the vistas at sunset, when you can gaze up at the watchmen in wonder. It’s worth taking the Watchman overlook trek one morning, as well as dipping your camping chair into the pristine river behind the campsite after a day of hiking.” Cynthia L. is a Dyrt camper.
“Zion is generally a very crowded park, but our site at Watchman was nestled in a patch of trees and tucked as far away from other sites as can be expected in a big campground like this. We had two tents, a shade tent, and two vehicles, and our campground was spacious. We were able to appreciate the tranquil surroundings since generators are not permitted.” — SwitchbackKids from Dyrt
“In my view, the finest element of this campsite is its accessibility to hiking trails and shuttle lines. The campground is a 5-minute walk of the visitor center where you can access a shuttle into the park or the shuttles that go to Springdale, where there are grocery store, gift shops and restaurants. There are also various walks accessible from the campsite.” Amanda D., a Dyrt camper.
2. Acadia National Park — Maine
Painters and photographers fantasize about autumn in New England. Hikers, boaters and cyclists, too, can explore and enjoy the vast woods, countless lakes and granite mountains of New England in autumn. Autumn foliage in the Northeast peaks from late September to late October, depending on latitude and height.
Acadia National Park, New England’s only national park, is one of the greatest places in the Northeast to see fall. Come anytime between the first and third weeks of October for a spectacular display of autumn foliage. Drive the Park Loop Road, bike the historic carriage roads, stroll around Jordan Pond and hike up Cadillac Mountain for sunrise.
Best Fall Hikes in Acadia National Park
- Jordan Pond Path (3.3 miles, easy)
- North Bubble Loop (2.6 miles, moderate)
- Parkman Mountain Trail and Bald Peak (2.7, moderate)
- South Ridge Trail on Cadillac Mountain (7.1 miles, strenuous)
Where to Camp in Acadia National Park in the Fall
Of the four regular campgrounds in Acadia National Park, only one is open through the month of October. We’ve also highlighted two that are open throughout the first two weeks of the month.
Camping in Acadia National Park is popular and reservations are highly recommended from spring through to the end of the season. Also, note that there really is only one campground in the main area of the park on Mount Desert Island—Blackwoods Campground. The rest are scattered over the park’s peninsulas and islands. They may be inaccessible, but they make up for it with isolation and silence.
“Close to many trails as well as the vast, beautiful ocean, clean bathrooms, close to island adventures/Bar Harbor restaurants and overall is a pleasant family campground. There are really nice showers within a two minute drive that are coin operated (ATM and coin machine inside though) and the campground also gives you an armful of free wood. The sites are not as private, but the location and cleanliness compensate.” Brittany D., a Dyrt camper.
Duck Harbor Campground
“Camping at the Duck Harbor Campground is almost legendary. This remote island off the coast of Maine only has 5 campsites in this part of Acadia National Park, and reservations are required. “Duck Harbor Campsite is highly popular,” the park’s website says, in typical Park Service understatement. Please organize your journey ahead of time.” I think I’m correct in stating that the buzz is worth it here, and not only because it’s tough to get here and to secure a reservation. This is a lovely site to camp and an incredible island to explore by bike, kayak, and foot.” Shari G., a Dyrt camper.
Schoodic Woods Campground
“This campsite is a hidden treasure!” It is situated on the Schoodic Peninsula, a quieter side part of Acadia National Park that is no less beautiful. Here you get to enjoy the hiking and biking trails, amazing coastal scenery, quaint towns, and a peaceful campground in one of America’s top 10 parks without the crowds and craziness of Bar Harbor and Acadia NP located on Mt. Desert Island (which is only an hour away).” Nancy W., a Dyrt camper.
3. Shenandoah National Park — Virginia
Fall colors appear in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains towards the end of September. The summit of the mountains is where it all begins, but it takes many weeks for the whole landscape to dress in its fall attire. Shenandoah National Park’s autumn colors generally peak in the second part of October. It is, however, wise to check local fall foliage reports and trackers.
Skyline Road is the greatest and only way to appreciate autumn in Shenandoah National Park. The park’s lone public road runs for 105 kilometers along the Blue Ridge. From 75 viewpoints and several hiking paths to historic lodges and plentiful wildlife, there’s much to see and do along the route.
Best Fall Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
- Stony Man Trail (1.6 miles, easy)
- Dark Hollow Falls Trail (1.4 miles, moderate)
- Scramble on Bearfence Mountain (1.2 miles, moderate)
- Frazier Discovery Trail (1.3 miles, moderate)
- Old Rag Mountain Trail (9.2 miles, very strenuous)
Where to Camp in Shenandoah National Park in the Fall
Shenandoah National Park’s five campsites—four conventional campgrounds and one group campground—are all available seasonally. They open throughout the spring, beginning with Big Meadows in late March, followed by Lewis Mountain soon afterwards, and the remainder in early May. With the exception of Big Meadows, which stays open for another two weeks, they all shut for the season on the final Monday of October.
None of the Shenandoah National Park campgrounds have hookups, but potable water is available. RVers might want to consider that only the Lewis Mountain Campground has a dump station. There are fire pits, picnic tables, and food storage boxes at each location. Since this is black bear territory, keep your campsite clean at all times!
Big Meadows Campground
“This campsite is situated on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and has some wonderful views!” There are various walks around the campsite, and the Appalachian Trail also passes through this area of the park! The staff is quite courteous, the park is immaculate, and there is wildlife everywhere. If you don’t feel like cooking, the lodge is very close by with delicious food, a warm fireplace, local musicians, games.” Charlotte D., a Dyrt camper.
Lewis Mountain Campground
“This is the park’s greatest campsite!” The spots are secluded, there’s bathrooms that are in good shape, and it’s super close to some awesome hikes and great sunset lookouts! We appreciated being able to hang our hammocks and see the nature. Our pets were welcomed, and we immediately felt at ease! One of my favorite national parks, and probably my favorite camping place!” Molly G., a Dyrt camper.
Loft Mountain Campground
“We had a great time sharing the spot with so much animals. We had a bear, a doe and her fawn, and a rambunctious rabbit family. There is a shop and showers, and the amenities are clean. The one thing I didn’t enjoy was that there was only one path through the whole campsite, but I see why it was necessary. They feature walk-in campsites for tent campers looking for a more wilderness experience, as well as through-trail campers.” Stephanie J. is a Dyrt camper.
4. Yosemite National Park — California
While Yosemite National Park’s winter wonderlands, sensational waterfalls and alpine meadows make it a national park worth visiting in any season, fall offers unique and undeniably gorgeous sights. This is the time of year when the park’s dogwoods, oaks, and maples lose their greens and reveal their yellows and reds. Of course, Yosemite Valley is where the magic occurs.
Mid-October marks the beginning of the autumn colors, which persist in pockets throughout the remainder of the season. The end of October and into November is, however, generally when the colors are at their brightest and most widespread. Snow is possible most of the year at Yosemite National Park. The fall can bring the occasional snowstorm, so make sure to check the park’s website for temporary closures.
Best Fall Hikes in Yosemite National Park
- Mirror Lake Loop (5 miles, easy)
- Sentinel Dome and Taft Point (2.2 miles, moderate)
- Vernal Fall (2.4 miles, moderate)
- Valley Loop Trail (11.5 miles, moderate)
- Four Mile Trail (4.8 miles, strenuous)
Where to Camp in Yosemite National Park in the Fall
Yosemite National Park has over a dozen campsites. Upper Pines, Camp 4, and Wawona Campgrounds are the only ones that are available all year. North Pines is open until the middle of November, while Lower Pines is open until the third week of October.
The three highlighted Yosemite National Park campsites below can accept both RVs and tents, but you should double-check individual site information before booking a spot since there may be duration limits. Yosemite is a very popular park, so making reservations is the best way to guarantee you have a place to stay during your visit; bookings may be made up to five months in advance.
There are no connections or showers at any of the campsites. Public showers are only available at Half Dome Village in Yosemite Valley.
Upper Pines Campground
“The sites are of medium size, with a bear locker, picnic table, and fire pit. The campground provides flush toilets and sinks. It is close to Curry Village [Half Dome Village] where showers, pool, market and pizza are available. The campground is close to the trailheads for Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, and Half Dome. Excellent camping location for seeing Yosemite Valley! Also is pet friendly.” Maureen C., a Dyrt camper.
North Pines Campground
Image from The Dyrt camper Mon M.
“On the east side of Yosemite Valley, it offers a convenient spot to rest after exploring and enjoying all the activities the area has to offer. Is busy, but each place has a fire ring, food storage, picnic table, parking space, and level, shaded tent spots.” — Kalai L., a Dyrt camper.
“Wawona is different [than Yosemite Valley]. The sites are spacious, well-spaced, and picturesque. Several of these are located along the Merced River’s South Fork. It’s serene and quiet there. Wawona was a lovely respite from the Valley’s often frenetic pace on both of my visits. It’s near the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias; there’s a free shuttle during the day, and you can take a car there at night — walking among the sequoias alone at night is absolutely amazing.” Joe H., a Dyrt camper.
5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park — North Carolina & Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which has more tree species than all of Western Europe combined, is one of the greatest national parks to visit in October for the range of hues alone. This park has an autumn leaf display unlike any other. The peak color season lasts from late September to early November due to a diversity of altitudes and microclimates. At higher altitudes, the first trees to change are mountain maples, yellow birches, and American beeches.
The whole month of October brings spectacular autumn colors across this hilly park. Hit the Blue Ridge Parkway—which, by the way, runs all the way north to Shenandoah National Park—to get a panoramic view of the fall landscape from Clingmans Dome, visit popular Laurel Falls and watch for elk and black bears in Cades Cove.
Best Fall Hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Baskins Creek Falls (3 miles, easy)
- Oconaluftee River Trail (3 miles, easy)
- Laurel Falls (2.6 miles, moderate)
- Inspiration Point accessed via the Alum Cave Route (4 miles, moderate)
- Ramsey Cascades (8 miles, strenuous)
Where to Camp in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the Fall
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has ten separate frontcountry campsites and numerous additional backcountry campgrounds.
The majority of those ten campsites are open well into October, and several are open all year. They all have flush toilets and running water, but the park has no water, electricity, or showers. Each campground has a picnic table, food storage containers, and a fire grate.
Some campgrounds require advance reservations whenever they’re open, while others only during a certain period. Some of these locations are first come, first served. In autumn, reservations for all frontcountry campsites are either possible or required, so you’re advised to book ahead. The Dyrt campers have suggested three Great Smoky Mountains campsites.
“I really enjoyed going here! We arrived in the midst of autumn, when all of the leaves were in full bloom! This journey is my all-time favorite because of the meandering mountain roads, rivers, and picture-perfect scenery. The campsite was located in the center of the forest, just across from a crystal clear river. This was a a great spot for pictures and for fishing small mouth bass right off your site. There were plenty of deer, turkey and even a black bear off in the distance.” Kasey K., a Dyrt camper.
Cades Cove Campground
Image from The Dyrt camper Meg S.
“We had a great time at this campsite. My two children enjoyed exploring the river, the toilets were maintained clean, and the campsites were large enough for tents or campers. This is a pretty busy campsite with extremely tight sites, but we would absolutely camp here again. In the Cades Cove stables, we spotted bears and went horseback riding. This campsite has no showers or hot water.” Elisabeth B., a Dyrt camper.
“This is an incredible location!” We took our small camper and stayed during the elk rut [which starts in mid-September] and it was incredible! Our dog came too and we were able to hike and get some great pictures of elk in the valley!” Natalie M. is a Dyrt camper.